Akrita Reyar With curtains down on the 15th Lok Sabha elections, it is only right that we pay an ode to the massive exercise that the largest democracy on earth undretakes every five years. The fact that 714 million people are eligible to exercise their franchise itself speaks volumes. Going by these figures, imagine both the Americas and Europe going to polls together at the same time, and you start figuring out the sheer scale of it all. So what does it take to turn this into a reality? One, that it has to be broken up into phases and two, we have one of the best administrations to carry out this mammoth assignment. To begin with, let’s number crunch. There are 543 seats that were contested across the length and breadth of the country. There were 828,804 polling stations that were activated for the 714 million voters out of which about 57% cast their ballot. The total number of electronic voting machines stood at 1.4 million. Before 2004, when EVMs were introduced, close to 8,000 metric tonnes of paper was used to print ballots. While the use of EVMs is both easier and less prone to hijacking, just setting up the mechanism was an onerous task. As the terrain of the country in some places can be both daunting and rugged, the EC needed to pull into service means beyond human. Elephants and camels obliged by carrying the paraphernalia for the elections to areas that are otherwise inaccessible. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshwadeep and even Sunderbans, boats were used both by the electorate as well as EC officials. India also had a handful of polling stations located at over 10,000 ft altitude where sometimes, EC personnel had to literally trek for kilometers to reach. Hikkim in HP is the highest polling station in the world at 15,000 ft above sea level. Choppers were summoned to deliver the cargo. Over 2 million security personnel ensured that the entire process was carried off more or less peacefully. The best part of it all was that even the last man was counted. Voting facilities were provided even in those areas where the number of the electorate is miniscule. Gir in Gujarat’s Junagadh is one such unique place, where 3 officials were deployed for the vote of a lone man living in the jungle. A polling station was also set up for two voters in Chhattisgarh and three in Arunachal which had just 3-4 voters each. There is also a dazzling array of party symbols. While the hand, lotus, sickle and elephant are familiar to us all, there others like a hammer, a cricketer, a bicycle, a bow-and-arrow, a pair of spectacles, bangles, coat hanger, ceiling fan and even a telephone. While this colossal party is now over and a new government will soon be at the helm, we need to not just celebrate our democracy but also pause to ponder. Sometimes, we take for granted what we have not fought for. At other times we become cynical when we see the men and women, who occupy the benches of Parliament. But when one considers the despotic governments that run writ in so many nations, it dawns on us the privilege to born in a country where each of us is a stake holder. Elections, in a way, are also the best method to vent steam. The Ballot is a most efficient tool to reward or punish. In its absence, one may be tempted to pick up the gun. Governments that forget the interests of the people are simply shown the door here. The beauty is that this is one system which both works and empowers. Though it may sound clichéd, our democracy is indeed one of those intangible threads that ties us all together as a nation. Whatever our frustration, hopes or vision for this land, we all feel that on this one day, we are equal and all have an equivalent say. When all castes, communities, people of different faiths, religions, ideologies join together for a common purpose, it makes our collective identity truly colourful and vibrant. To be a part of the biggest democratic drill in the world is a pleasure and something that we need to be proud of. A cursory glance at the nations that encircle us drives home the point. About how lucky we are to be Born Free!